Native Artists Learn the Value of Culture Through the Arts
February 3, 2023
For eight weeks, artists from the Gila River Indian Community, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Tohono O’odham Nation, and Ak-Chin Indian Community are working to develop their artistic abilities through Tohono O’odham Community College’s (TOCC) Native Arts Workshop class. The non-credit course allows art enthusiasts to learn more about traditional O’otham art, history, and culture. At the same time, students can brush up on their artistic skills.
In total 16 students were selected for the course. As an added bonus students from GRIC, SRPMIC, and TON currently receive free tuition for this and all other TOCC courses.
This year, four GRIC members were selected and have found a deeper understanding of their talents. GRIC students include Cael Bennett from District 4, Melissa Yazzie from District 5, and mother and daughter Jamie and Deja Sustaita from District 5.
“These opportunities aren’t always available, so it was great to sign up and learn more about our ancestral arts and crafts from experts in the field,” said Deja Sustaita. This is her and her mother’s second time in the course. Both found it very beneficial for them to reconnect with their heritage since both lived off the Community for years.
“I highly encourage everyone to take the class if they can because you learn more than painting and you learn from some of the most prestigious artists in their field,” said Jamie Sustaita.
The workshops began on Jan. 7, where instructor Dwayne Manuel, from SRPMIC, provides guided instruction and day trips for students. Every Saturday, students meet at the TOCC satellite site in Downtown Phoenix for an all-day course specializing in cultural and contemporary arts.
“I really enjoy these settings when I’m able to show a technique or something new for students who then take it and advance on it throughout the class, those ‘ah-ha’ moments are great to see,” said Dwayne Manuel, Visual Arts Instructor for TOCC.
Manuel appreciates the TOCC curriculum that allows him to weave O’otham culture into everything TOCC offers students, including these workshops. This component helps to ensure everyone can find a place and feel included in the work.
“What I love to see most, is the collaboration you see among the students, cause we all come from GRIC, SRPMIC, or TON and we’re able to learn from one another and that will show when we get to our final mural project,” said Manuel.
After eight weeks, students will collaborate on a mural that incorporates all they have learned in class. Finally, students will decide on the design and artistic expression they would like to convey, visually demonstrating all the teachings they learned over the eight weeks.
This is the second year TOCC has offered the workshops for students in the Valley and serves as a pilot for a potential accredited course in the future. During the beginning of the course, students embarked on field trips to the surrounding areas to learn about traditional O’otham arts.
One trip included a pottery workshop where master artist Ron Carlos, from SRPMIC, led students to the Tonto National Forest to harvest the clay required for pottery. Then on another outing, students traveled near Tucson to gather plants and basket-making materials, led by Elizabeth Ortega, from TON.
Melissa Yazzie is a seasoned artist but wanted to enroll in the class to connect with her culture and learn more about other art mediums, such as basket making and pottery. As a self-taught artist, Yazzie said, “it’s been really great to learn more about what I don’t learn on my own from renowned local artists and learn together with other O’otham students where we can share stories and techniques.”